I once had a radio program and was given an opportunity to interview some truly wonderful, creative, courageous people. Inevitably they were people who had engaged in the struggle for justice. Or, in other words, they were people who had fought with evil, and had journeyed into the valley of the shadow of death. A persistent question I continually asked was, “Where do you find hope?”
It is, I believe, easy to be optimistic when one has resources like money, friends, stability, and security. But hope is a bit different from optimism. Optimism, it seems to me, is rooted in one’s personal disposition. It is a characteristic that one seems to be born with, it comes naturally. Hope, however, is a spiritual disposition. One chooses hope. It requires a conscious intent. We hope in the face of affliction and discouragement. We hope in situations of hopelessness. We hope despite our sufferings.
An optimist is always looking on the bright side of life, at the cup half full. But one who hopes sees clearly that there is gloom all around, and the cup has a leak. The difference is that the optimist has a cheery disposition entering situations of conflict and trial, and expects a happy ending. The one who hopes might enter those same situations with a scowl on her face, cynicism in her heart, speaking words heavily freighted with irony, knowing that the ending of this matter just leads into continual struggle with the next matter.
I have always been attracted to those who hope. I see in those who hope a great strength of courage. They choose to participate in hopeless situations that cannot be fixed or magically transformed. And yet, they try. They try and improve the situation just a bit, just a nudge, just a tweak. I see in those who hope a great clarity of vision. They see clearly that utopia never quite gets here. The messiah never fully arrives. Nevertheless, they are willing to prepare as if the utopia might spring alive, that the messiah might come knocking. Those who hope are willing to live as if that which is unseen is more real than that which is so patently obvious.
The most hopeful people I know sleep in homeless shelters, serve soup at kitchens throughout the city, attend countless, boring, trivial, mundane governmental briefings that promise to end homelessness. They walk the streets with a kind word to strangers, with courtesy toward the elderly, the frail, and the odd one. They live in a scary world, unafraid. The most hopeful people I know always strike me as a pinprick of light in a dark, dusky world. In them I see the messiah come. I see utopia materialize. I hope.